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GM car warranty confusion leaves consumers and dealers in the dark

Consumer Reports News: June 16, 2009 10:34 AM

Despite assurances from General Motors President and CEO Fritz Henderson that “We have absolutely no intention at all of not taking care of customers" (from CBS Early Show interview), there is one thing that is clear about vehicle warranties during the GM bankruptcy: There is confusion.

In posts on January 6 ("Who will perform warranty service on my GM car?") and another one on June 2 ("My dealer closed! What do I do?"), we reported that GMs instructions for Saturn owners needing warranty service are very clear:

"Under the terms of the warranty, the customer should first attempt to bring their vehicle to any Saturn retailer for warranty service. If there is no retailer in their immediate area, or if it is an emergency situation, the repair can be made at any General Motors dealership. In non-emergency situations, it is a good idea for a customer who is having trouble finding a nearby Saturn retailer to call Saturn Customer Assistance before going to a non-Saturn location. That number is (800) 553-6000."

However, not everyone has received that message.

GM confirmed to us that it “…received Bankruptcy Court approval on June 1 to honor all warranty programs related to vehicles and related components, which also includes lemon law claims, field actions/recall costs and buyback activities.” Additionally, GM's warranty coverage is backed by the U.S. Government for passenger cars and trucks purchased on March 30 through July 31. 

But there are still challenges for motorists seeking warranty repairs. For instance, some Saturn dealerships are going out of business due to the economy, and yet others are deciding not to sell Saturns and service them under warranty. In addition, it appears that internal policies limit–and may even prevent–non-Saturn GM dealers from servicing Saturn vehicles.

According to David Henson, founder of Warranty Matters who provides multi-brand warranty auditing and training services, the GM Policy and Procedures Manual has specific language that limits cross-brand service work. For example, a Chevrolet dealer can work on a Pontiac or Saturn vehicle, if the dealer either sold it as a used vehicle or it was considered an emergency repair situation. Participation in the cross-brand work is not mandatory, says Henson, as dealers might not have the training or tools required to diagnose and properly repair the vehicle.

As a GM spokesperson explained, a Saturn dealer may not be equipped to perform complex repairs on a Corvette, or vice versa. And the term “emergency” is open to interpretation by the local service manager.

Todd Ingersoll, president of Saturn of Danbury and Watertown (Conn.), confirmed the rule, saying it is “General Motors’ policy to allow any division to fix any General Motors car in an emergency, or if they sell the vehicle as a used car.”

A GM representative explained that service for vehicles from the four discontinued or otherwise disposed of brands will continue to be provided by any Hummer, Pontiac, Saab, or Saturn retailer—again, assuming they are still around. GM confirms the policy is that in emergency situations, these vehicles can be serviced at any GM dealer.

Other dealers we spoke with were not as clear on the policy. Adding to the uncertainty is that General Motors currently uses three different warranty management and parts ordering systems: one for Saturn, one for Saab, and one that covers the remaining brands. This makes is difficult for non-Saturn dealers to order the correct parts for Saturn vehicles, according to Henson.

Overall, the confusion hurts the consumer and may even sour them on buying from the “new” General Motors. Likewise, dealers may be turning away business unnecessarily.

It is a shame, as GM has assured us that “There will be an adequate supply of parts to service vehicles, including vehicles associated with discontinued brands.  As brands/models are phased out, GM will continue to provide service parts based on the total number of vehicles on the road, customer demand for parts, and estimated needs for future parts.”

Mark LaNeve, GM North America vice president - Vehicle Sales, Service and Marketing, said, “We're standing behind our products, we're honoring our vehicle warranty programs, we have an adequate supply of service parts for all products and our dealers stand ready to provide great service. Putting our customers first remains a primary focus every day."

The message from General Motors is good and consistent, but it needs to be clearly communicated to the local level. Since our investigation began, Janine Fruehan Manager, Quality & Safety Communications, has assured us that just such a message is being prepared.

We are calling on General Motors and the Auto Task Force to issue a statement that makes it clear to all GM dealers and consumers that owners can take their Hummer, Pontiac, Saab, and Saturn vehicles to any GM dealer for service, even if the car was not purchased at that dealer or not an emergency situation. Clear communication would help all parties.

In the meantime, we recommend car owners call ahead and confirm with a service manager that warranty work will be performed. If one dealer refuses, call another.

For further information, visit: www.gm.com/restructuring/

Read "What does the GM bankruptcy mean to you?" To get more answers to the most common questions and concerns about GM’s bankruptcy, visit our Auto Crisis hub.

Jon Linkov

   

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